Diwali is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions across the world. The festival coincides with the Hindu New Year and thus also celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Diwali also commemorates Lakshmi, the Divinity of wealth and prosperity.
The five days of festivity begin with Dhanteras (the day of good fortune); followed by Naraka Chaturdasi (the day of knowledge and also the day Goddess Kaali destroys the demon of ignorance Narakasura); followed by Diwali (the day of light) on 12th November this year; followed by Annakut (meaning mountain of food and celebrated as the New Year’s Day); and finally Bhai Duj (the day celebrating sibling-bonds).
Should Zoroastrians Celebrate Diwali?
Zoroastrians love to partake in all celebrations. In fact, each day of life should be a celebration! However, festivals give us a reason to celebrate life even more! A Zoroastrian need not celebrate Diwali with Vedic pooja. However, being the Festival of Lights, one can certainly light oil lamps and adorn the threshold with colorful rangoli.
Zoroastrians are often erroneously perceived as ‘fire-worshipers’. However, Zoroastrians essentially revere light, especially the light of knowledge and wisdom. As a community, we literally and figuratively light up any occasion with our sense of humour, our sense of giving and above all else, our sense of life and living.
We have our dark side and dark traits too (often lightly passed off as our idiosyncrasies). However, just as darkness is required to see the stars and the moon, Parsis perhaps cannot be seen for who they really are without their idiosyncrasies. And, so, we merrily continue our tango with darkness and light, with the hope and prayer that the fine balance will never be disturbed.
Significance Of Lighting Lamps
The most common icon which captures the spirit of Diwali is the oil lamp, lighting up millions of homes and establishments with joy and hope. Indeed, the only way to negate darkness is with light and the only way to dispel evil is through thoughts, words and deeds that are good. Darkness will only swallow darkness and deepen. Darkness can only be vanquished with light and evil can only be vanquished with goodness. Evil cannot and will not be vanquished with evil. The theory of “an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” will only make the world blind and toothless.
Rightly does Seth Adam Smith in Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern state:
“You cannot defeat darkness by running from it,
Nor can you conquer your inner demons by hiding them from the world.
In order to defeat the darkness, you must bring it into the light.”
Zoroastrians associate light with life and Meher Yazata is seen as the Divinity of light. Like Diwali, Zoroastrians observe Mehergan which also commemorates the victory of light over the forces of darkness and good over the forces of evil. Zoroastrians also light oil lamps at home and at offices and not just on festive days, but, every day. In a sense, Zoroastrians celebrate light every single day be it while praying the Meher Yasht (hymn) or the Meher Niyaish (litany) to sunlight or while praying before a consecrated fire or a hearth fire at home.
How And Why Do We Light The Diva?
We can choose to light a diva mechanically or with deeper understanding and positive affirmation. As we all know, light carries the energy required to sustain life on earth and without light we are unable to see anything. Thus, while we light oil lamps to usher in light and dispel darkness, more importantly, since Ardibehesht (the Divinity of Truth and Righteousness and giver of good health) also presides over fire, we light the divo to celebrate truth, righteousness and invite good health and good living.
In the Zoroastrian tradition, we light a diva reciting five Yatha. The Avestan Yatha ahu vairyo prayer also known as the Ahunavar is the equivalent of the Sanskrit Om. In the Hindu tradition Brahma creates the universe chanting the Om whereas in the Zoroastrian tradition, Ahura Mazda creates the universe chanting the Ahunavar. In other words, the Ahunavar is a creative and life-giving chant.
When lighting the diva and simultaneously chanting the Yatha ahu vairyo five times, we should understand that we are not just dispelling darkness from our surroundings, but also dispelling the darkness of doubt and depression from our mind.
With the recitation of each Yatha, we should affirm that our five senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch) become more enhanced, creative and positive. Pray for foresight, pray that you hear no evil, pray that you smell success, pray that you taste love and pray that you touch lives in a positive way, each day of your life.
When the mind is fed with positive affirmations, it begins to resonate with light itself and such a person starts to exude the light of life itself. A person who is very knowledgeable, wise and compassionate is called ‘enlightened’. The term ‘enlighten’ comes from the metaphor that ignorance is a state of being ‘in the dark’ and that knowledge, wisdom and compassion is illuminating.
This Festival of Lights, let us resolve that we will not just celebrate light, but, endeavour to become the light that will en-liven and en-lighten the lives of all those whose lives we touch.
Be the sunlight that brightens up the mood and live your life like the verse in the poem of Hafez: “Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, ‘you owe me’. Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky!”